American Extremists: Militias, Supremacists, Klansmen, Communists & Others

By John George; Laird Wilcox | Go to book overview

15. The Christian Right

Theoretically, religion and politics are supposed to be separate in the United States. In reality, throughout our history, they have usually been mingled. Thomas Jefferson's oft-repeated dictum that there should be a "wall of separation" between church and state has not been taken too seriously by the majority in a literal sense, but rather as a metaphor suggesting a general principle; most Americans believe that religious values have a place in the laws and government of the country. 1

Article Six of the Constitution contains the phrase that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." This means that the government may not require a "religious test" (to demonstrate church membership or adherence to a particular religious doctrine) for one to run for or be appointed to office. It does not mean that it's unconstitutional for individuals or groups to take a candidate's religious views into account with respect to his fitness for office. American political campaigns— from presidential to school board—have raised issues of the morality and ethics of the respective candidates, and reasonably so. Who wants candidates who are "immoral" and "unethical?" The problem is that the public generally understands these terms in their religious context, as if religion were the only vehicle for morality and ethics. Christianity being the dominant religion in the United States by quite a large margin, it is Christian morality and ethics that have dominated the controversy. 2

In a free society where one has choices about religion and politics, and where interest groups are allowed to organize and promote their views, religious as well as political controversies are bound to flourish, and they should. We have more to fear from stifling these controversies than we do allowing them, although it's also true that the volatility inherent in religious belief, combined with its metaphysical nature, does not lend itself well to rational discourse.

* * *

The most recent manifestation of the blending of religion and politics in American life began to form in the late seventies and got into high gear at the beginning of the eighties. This movement became known as the Christian Right, Fundamentalist Right, or Religious Radical Right. We prefer the least pejorative term and will refer to it merely as the Christian Right. While focusing on most of the same issues as the fundamentalist radio preachers of the twenties through the sixties (such as Bob Schuler, Charles E. Fuller, Paul Rader, Billy James Hargis,

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